The Passage of the $4B American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Spending Bill

Written by Isabella Gambill, Senior Policy Advisor on Climate, Energy, & Resilience

Thanks to the signing of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) by President Biden in March 2021, the Commonwealth was allocated around $5.3B in federal funding from Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Funds to be spent statewide in Massachusetts, with additional pots of ARPA funds allocated to municipalities. This ARPA funding, also known as the COVID-19 Stimulus Package, is intended to help our most vulnerable and impacted communities recover from the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. To help appropriate the Commonwealth’s $5.3B, the state legislature held a series of public hearings in summer and fall 2021 to determine key priorities for ARPA spending. Despite months-long public engagement through hearings, testimony, and extensive advocacy with legislators, in addition to the establishment of a six-member Joint Committee tasked with delivering a compromise bill, the legislature was unable to pass a joint ARPA spending plan before the conclusion of the final formal session of 2021, on November 17th.

The Joint Committee continued to meet behind closed doors during the informal session in late November and early December 2021 to reach an agreement on an ARPA spending bill and to reconcile the House and Senate’s spending bill differences. Since there can be no floor debates brought during an informal session, any single legislator in the House or Senate could block a joint ARPA spending bill from moving forward. Nonetheless, in an unusual move, the Joint Committee was able to unanimously pass a $4B ARPA spending bill in both branches on December 3rd, giving Governor Baker 10 days to sign, veto, or return the bill with amendments.


Governor Baker Signs the ARPA Spending Plan into Law on December 3rd, 2021

On Monday, December 13th, just before the 10-day deadline, Governor Baker signed the ARPA spending bill into law. He vetoed 7 line items to minimize “red tape” in bill language around fund disbursements and to ensure that the $4B of aid included in the ARPA spending bill would be distributed throughout the Commonwealth as swiftly as possible. The final ARPA spending bill signed by Governor Baker left about $2.34B of remaining ARPA funds in Massachusetts still to be appropriated. All remaining ARPA funds must be appropriated by 2024, with all funds needing to be spent out by 2026. EEA is seeking to frontload the majority of ARPA spending in the first two years as much as possible.

The final $4B ARPA spending plan includes many of A Better City's recommendations, including key investments in critical infrastructure projects, climate resilient environmental infrastructure grants, equitable workforce development for green jobs, clean energy development, and investment in equitable and affordable broadband access and infrastructure improvements to encourage digital equity. However, despite these wins, we believe that the legislature and Baker Administration can, and should, do more to deliver on regional resilient infrastructure investments, on funding regional transportation and micro-mobility initiatives, and in delivering funds as equitably as possible by ensuring that communities worst hit by COVID-19 are receiving the majority of recovery funding.

In the next year, there are additional opportunities for the legislature to apply the remaining ARPA funds to address critical infrastructure needs throughout the Commonwealth. There will be some additional federal funding from the Biden Administration’s infrastructure bill, but much of these funds will be distributed through nationwide, competitive grant programs. To build a stronger, safer, and more resilient Commonwealth, we need further investment in clean, accessible, and resilient transportation infrastructure, modern public transit vehicles and micro-mobility opportunities, and improved regional resiliency.  Massachusetts should be jumpstarting work on these efforts with state ARPA funds, so we can improve our chances of winning major federal infrastructure grants to complete these larger regional initiatives. Additionally, as much of the ARPA spending plan language is quite vague in the bill itself, it will be vital to follow the associated regulatory process for fund disbursement and implementation and to ensure that EEA has sufficient staff capacity to administer ARPA-funded grant programs, as quickly as possible.

We look forward to continuing engagement on the remaining ARPA spending appropriations to ensure their efficient and equitable distribution across communities in the Commonwealth. To see A Better City’s ARPA recommendations submitted to the legislature in October 2021, see here.

For any questions related to the ARPA spending plan and A Better City’s ongoing engagement in ARPA appropriations for the remaining $2.34B left unallocated, please contact Isabella Gambill.

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